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October 1, 2002

What defines a quality wild trout fishing experience? Given that Pennsylvania’s state hatcheries are limited in the total number of pounds of fish they can raise, what balance should be struck between the number and size of stocked trout? (More but smaller? Fewer but larger?) What type of information should be made available to the public for trout stockings occurring during the open season? Do current regulations adequately protect naturally reproducing trout populations? How should the state address the funding shortfalls for its fishery programs?

These and other questions about future directions for trout and trout fishing were at the heart of the first-ever Pennsylvania Trout Summit hosted by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) on September 27-28. The forum brought together individual Pennsylvania trout anglers, representatives of the state’s sportsmen’s organizations, conservation interests, elected officials, educators and natural resource manages from across the country.

In kicking off the event, Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director Peter A. Colangelo noted that, “Pennsylvania anglers pursue black bass, musky, walleye, panfish and many other species with great enthusiasm. But for many, the fish they prize most are trout. In Pennsylvania, about three-quarters of all license buyers go fishing for trout each year. Just under half of all fishing trips taken in PA are for trout. With such great attention placed on trout by our customers, it is natural that the Commission in turn places a great deal of emphasis on trout management.”

The first day of the event involved fisheries managers and environmental professionals from Pennsylvania, 17 other states, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, other federal agencies, the Freshwater Institute and the Canaan Valley Institute, the Governor’s Sportsmen’s Advisory Council and members and staff of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The forum featured presentations and round table discussions on topics such as fish disease, hatchery wastewater discharge standards, stocking programs for recreational fishing, development of therapeutic chemicals for fish health, hatchery technology and funding for fish and wildlife agencies.

The second day of the summit focused specifically on Pennsylvania’s trout programs. Some 90 invited Pennsylvania anglers and representatives from fishing-related organizations gathered for a series of informational briefings by PFBC staff. The briefings were followed by small focus group sessions, where attendees shared their opinions on subjects like stocking policies, habitat improvement, funding and wild trout management.

“The Trout Summit was a great way to get people thinking and talking,” Colangelo added. “It’s important that Pennsylvania’s trout anglers recognize the great variety of influences that affect trout fishing and let us know what directions they’d like to see us take as an agency.”

Commission President Bill Sabatose said the Trout Summit’s greatest value was in keeping an open dialogue between the PFBC and anglers. “There are a lot of things we do right as a Commission. There are also areas where we should consider changes. Public input is critical in defining both,” said Sabatose.

Trout fishing in Pennsylvania is at a crossroads. A slow, but steady decrease in the number of fishing licenses and trout permits sold over the last decade has eroded the Commission’s funding base and impacted its operations, including trout programs. Declining water supplies to the state’s trout-producing hatcheries and the need to address the effluent quality leaving those same hatcheries has forced the PFBC cut the number of trout produced for stocking programs by more than 25%.

Trout anglers themselves are changing too, said Rick Hoopes, Director of the Bureau of Fisheries for the PFBC. “Trout anglers are a diverse group. Some value the trout they catch as food for the table but others see trout fishing as purely a recreational activity. There are anglers for whom success is measured by the weight of their creel, while others practice strict catch and release. Certain anglers prefer stream fishing for trout. Others opt for lakes,” Hoopes said. “Waters managed under special regulations, such as delayed harvest, are popular among many anglers. However, others prefer waters with conventional regulations. Our challenge as an agency is to meet, as best we can, a wide range of ever-evolving angler expectations – and do it in a fiscally prudent manner.”

No decisions about the future directions of trout management in Pennsylvania were made at the Trout Summit. Rather than being an end to itself , Colangelo said the event was part of a much larger public input process. Input and notes from the Trout Summit will be compiled and reviewed by the Commission and staff as they conduct a bottoms-up review of PFBC trout programs. “We look at what we do as a continuous improvement process. Pennsylvania has long been considered a national leader in trout management. The way you stay on top is building upon your strengths and trying new ideas when necessary,” he said.

Colangelo cited three examples of new initiatives the Commission is exploring. The agency is close to signing an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to raise 100,000 brook trout at a federal hatchery at the Kinzua Reservoir. While the terms of the agreement are not yet final, the partnership will involve the PFBC providing fish food and funding. In return, the USFWS-raised brook trout will be stocked in the Allegheny National Forest area.

The Commission is working on a draft for a request for proposals for a pilot program where private commercial hatcheries would produce and stock approximately 100,000 adult trout into waters designated by the PFBC.

The Commission also recently entered into a cooperative agreement with the Toby Creek Watershed Association to begin design work on an innovative hatchery concept in the Blue Valley (Brandy Camp Creek) in Elk County. This demonstration project would involve treating discharge from an abandoned mine and using that water in a trout hatchery. When fully operational after a suitable pilot period, the hatchery could produce 200,000 adult trout for the PFBC (with the potential to eventually produce trout on two cycles (400,000 trout). The proposed hatchery is of particular interest because the water being discharged from the facility would actually be of higher quality than that flowing into it. Senate Bill 1213, currently pending before the General Assembly, authorizes the Fish and Boat Commission to make a capital investment of $1.6 million in this demonstration project. Coupled with funds from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Office of Surface Mining, and other conservation agency and groups, the pilot project is an example of partnerships in action to help keep Pennsylvania fishing and improve water quality.

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